Advent Newsletter Excerpt | From A Deacon’s Bench

Written by Gary Veeneman, Living Hope Deacon

While most of the country has moved on, relief efforts continue in the Abbotsford, Sumas Prairie area, as many folks are still working to rebuild their homes and businesses after nearly two years since the flooding, of November 2021.  Some of the significant ways residents are getting the help they need is through the Abbotsford Disaster Relief Coalition (ADRC), a group that was formed in early 2022, with Christian Reformed Churches, area churches and organizations. The ADRC helps those in need on an ongoing basis when other organizations have left, or when funding from federal, provincial, and local governments are still being processed. Our vision is: to provide both HELP and HOPE in the name of Jesus, through the stability of a coalition of local churches. After nearly a year of fund raising, the Coalition raised over a million dollars for long-term flood response efforts. This was, in part, by donations from many CRC’s and other church denominations across Canada and the United States. At the end of the day, the Coalition raised 2.2 million dollars which it was able to use to distribute to those affected by the flooding.

On March 1st, 2022, the Abbotsford Disaster Response Coalition started accepting applications from those seeking aid.  An important part of meeting those who have been affected, was hearing their stories and having the opportunity to deliver some good news to otherwise devastated folks. By mid-April, the coalition had received well over 100 applications for assistance from flood relief. Our team of 10 people went through each application, treating each applicant with dignity and respect and on a one-on-one basis. It has been a blessing as well as an eye-opener to hear what some folks have gone through during the November flood. We were blessed by connecting with Leons, a large local furniture and appliance franchise. They told us they would assist and do whatever it would take to help those who were affected by the flood, with their store manager working personally with folks that came in and offered a significant discount on all furniture and appliances. The store also offered to store appliances and/or furniture for as long as families needed.

Since the Coalition began, many more applications were approved, mostly for furniture and appliances, but also for building materials, as well as repairs to properties. From the onset of flood relief, the Coalition has used ‘helping without harming’ principles when working with locals who needed assistance. This partnership with Leon’s is one more way we could offer people dignity and respect by allowing them to choose what they needed and not treating them like a charity case.

Those who have applied were humbled and grateful for the Abbotsford Disaster Relief Coalition; here are just a few of their stories:

  • A retired single woman had filled out the application 3 times, ripping each one up because she thought there were others in much worse shape than she was. Her entire home was destroyed during the flood, and she lost most of her belongings, furniture, appliances, and was still not able to return home because of the repairs that needed to be done. She finally applied for funds to replace appliances and only wanted some modest furniture.
  • A husband and wife, who are farmers, lost their entire home. The home will have to be taken down and rebuilt, as there was 7 feet of water in the house at the height of the flood. They have been living in a suite above their garage since that November. They were approved for funds to replace appliances and furniture, as well as building materials.
  • Migrant workers from several homes had to flee the flooding with only the essentials that they could carry down the road. They were rescued by boat after spending a few hours in the dark and heavy rain. They have found housing at a local hotel and are still waiting to move back into their homes. Approval has been given for funding to replace furniture and appliances and building materials.

A long-time crop farmer who has lived in the same home for 50 years lost everything. His family home, farming equipment, the crops, some outbuildings. He also applied for relief funds to help get his farm up and running again, if possible.

There are many more stories of resilience and gratitude. One couple who lost their entire home under 6 feet of water shared, that the Lord had provided for them before the flood, and they knew he would provide for them after the flood as well. Amazingly, this seems to be the attitude of the vast majority of those who have been affected by the flooding. Diaconal Ministries Canada, along with World Renew has been heavily involved through this time of relief and recovery.

The ADRC has also been blessed with several local partners: Living Hope CRC, John Ouwerkerk, Gary Veeneman, Gateway Community CRC, Milt Walker, Betty Beukema, Darrin Bowman, Trinity CRC, Mike Dykshoorn, Global Aid Network (GAIN) Canada, Abbotsford Disaster & Relief Resources, Abbotsford Community Foundation, Cornerstone CRC Chilliwack, John Huisman, New Life CRC, Angela Groothof, Immanuel CRC Langley, Sam Wind, Blackwood Building Supplies, and Leons Furniture.  Our team would not have succeeded without these partnerships. As well, we were particularly pleased to have deacons from some of the other Abbotsford CRC’s and from Immanuel CRC. They brought the love of the Lord and a wealth of experience to the table. Their concern for those affected by the flood was so evident in all our conversations.  It has been a huge blessing to see so many people and agencies working together and building relationships for a common goal.

There is much to learn, and the need is nowhere near over, even though it has been two years since the flooding. The sense of community and collaboration is a huge positive that has grown from all this. It is truly amazing to see churches working together to do so much more than we could have done on our own! The Abbotsford Disaster Relief Coalition is overwhelmed by the prayers and the generosity of individuals, CRC’s from across the country, local corporations, and foundations – all of whom have made all this work possible.